BROOKSVILLE — Changes are on the way to Hernando Park in downtown Brooksville, changes that will prepare the facility for the Florida Blueberry Festival in May.
The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday unanimously agreed to a proposal that would allow the Brooksville Vision Foundation to make some immediate, permanent changes to the small park, as well as some temporary changes to make the park more suited for the festival.
But county officials made it clear that during Tuesday's meeting they would not entertain a proposal for the city of Brooksville to take over the park and the vision foundation's long-term plans for it.
Altering the park has become a hot-button issue with regular users of the tennis courts there, which will be out of service for several weeks for the festival, and with families who worry about other aspects of the park, including the small playground.
Commissioners heard from a variety of residents opposed to changes at the park. Several urged the commission to draw up a contract with the vision group to be sure that promises are kept. Others voiced concern about the impact on Hernando High School students who use the tennis courts, and they worried that the courts could be damaged if bleacher seating is placed on them.
Judy Jeanette, a tennis professional, argued that the park was donated to the county by the Coogler family in the 1920s and should remain in its historic state.
She described the social and family activities that take place there, ranging from pickleball and picnics to birthday parties and board games.
"With its green, shady, cool trees, it's a safe place day and night,'' she said.
Vision foundation members Sonny Vergara and Cliff Manuel described plans to prepare the park for the festival, which takes place May 4 to 6.
Volunteers from the committee will shut down the tennis courts for three to four weeks. The courts will be covered with plywood and outdoor carpeting, and seating for the music acts will be in that area. A portion of the fencing around the courts will also come down temporarily.
The shuffleboard courts will be replaced permanently with the beginnings of a formal entrance for the park featuring a lowered walkway of level pavers. A decorative fence would encircle the park, allowing more security and a place to control entrances and charge admission for future events.
"None of these expenses come from the city or the county,'' but instead from community donations, Vergara said.
Commissioners said they wanted to see more detailed plans. They also wanted to be assured that, when the festival is over, each of the temporary changes will be reversed and the park will be put back the way it was.
Manuel said that would happen. He also assured the commission that the tennis courts would be available to the high school tennis program through the end of the season in April.
In addition, he noted that there will be plenty of time to discuss more permanent changes at the park and the transfer of ownership. He said he wanted to hear more input from the community and said the vision foundation was aware of the outcry from the users of the courts.
"Tennis should be a part of the long-term vision,'' he said.
Manuel also predicted that the partnership involving the county, the city and private interests will reap benefits down the road.
Projects developed in that way "turn out to be wonderful things that everyone enjoys," he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.